Football

Pogba leads Man United comeback to delay City's coronation

Red Devils' record signing scores two goals in 3-2 win at Etihad

EPL
MAN CITY MAN UNITED
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(Vincent Kompany 25, Ilkay Guendogan 30) (Paul Pogba 53,55, Chris Smalling 69)

Paul Pogba spoiled Manchester City’s anticipated Premier League title party by scoring twice in two minutes as Manchester United came from 2-0 down to win a thrilling derby 3-2 on Sunday morning (Singapore time).

Chris Smalling completed the comeback that looked so improbable when City were well on course to round off a resounding march towards the title by racing into a 2-0 first-half lead.

Goals from captain Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Guendogan put the hosts in a commanding position, who were left to rue huge missed chances from Raheem Sterling to extend their lead.

“In that level in that competition when you have chances, you have to score,” said City manager Pep Guardiola. “They shot four times on target and scored three goals.”

Guardiola added more spice to an already hotly anticipated clash when he claimed on Friday he had been offered the chance to buy Pogba three months ago by the player’s agent Mino Raiola.

Pogba has endured a desperately disappointing season having often been dropped by Jose Mourinho for United’s biggest games.

But after so much criticism, Pogba showed why he was the world’s most expensive player when United splashed out £89 million (S$165m)  to bring him back to the club from Juventus in 2016 by hauling United back into a game that looked lost at half-time.

“If the accusation from his agent is that he wants to go to other clubs, his price has gone up,” said Mourinho wryly.

And Mourinho challenged his side to use their fightback as a springboard to a title challenge next season.

“I want to congratulate City for the title because they are going to win and deservedly. They gave no chance to the others because they had this season of don’t stop winning,” added the Portuguese.

“My objective here was to get points and not spoil any celebrations. The point is can we improve enough to catch them next season?” .

City's prioritIES

Guardiola kept his pre-match promise to prioritise the Champions League quarter-final, second leg on Wednesday morning (Singapore time) against Liverpool, with City needing to overturn a 3-0 first leg deficit.

Kevin de Bruyne, a leading candidate for Player of the Year awards, was left on the bench alongside Gabriel Jesus and City’s all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero.

Guardiola and Mourinho have a long-running rivalry dating back to their time in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

And the game quickly settled into the usual pattern when the two face off with City dominating possession and United happy to get plenty of men behind the ball.

Yet, for all City’s possession, just like when City won 2-1 at Old Trafford in December, it was from a set-piece that United were undone.

City’s Abu-Dhabi owners have splashed an estimated 878 million euros (S$1.4 billion) over the past decade to assemble a squad that has tilted the balance of power in Manchester from red to blue.

Kompany was one the Emiratis’ first purchases, and he was a fitting scorer on what seemed destined to be a historic day.

The Belgian outmuscled Smalling to power home Leroy Sane’s corner on 25 minutes.

Five minutes later, City doubled their lead in a style that has characterised their season as Guendogan brilliantly turned onto Sterling’s pass before slotting into the far corner.

City should have been out of sight by half-time as Guardiola screamed in frustration after Sterling fired two glorious chances well over the bar.

Like the rest of his teammates, Pogba was overrun in the first 45 minutes, but came alive to slot home from Ander Herrera’s cushioned pass with his chest to get United back into the game eight minutes after the break.

That goal was the first Mourinho’s men had scored away from home against top-five opposition in the English Premier League all season.

And they soon had two in two minutes when Alexis Sanchez picked out Pogba’s late run into the box and his header beat Ederson low to his right-hand side.

City’s Champions League hopes were likely ended by conceding three times in 19 minutes at Anfield in midweek.

And United took just 16 minutes to complete an incredible turnaround when Smalling capitalised on some slack City marking to turn home Sanchez’s free-kick.

Guardiola threw on Aguero, Jesus and de Bruyne in an attempt to prevent just a second league defeat of the season.

And City should have had a penalty when Ashley Young somehow escaped without punishment from a knee-high lunge on Aguero inside the area that sparked an bad-tempered finale.

Aguero was denied by a brilliant David de Gea save two minutes from time and Sterling then hit the post as United somehow held on for a famous win. – AFP

Pogba, Sanchez show their worth in United shirt

When Manchester United went in at half-time on Saturday, trailing Manchester City 2-0, manager Jose Mourinho had a blunt message for his players who had been totally outclassed as their rivals closed in on the English Premier League title.

“He said ‘we don’t want to be the clowns who are sort of standing there watching them get their trophy’,” said defender Chris Smalling.

United’s response was anything but clownish – they scored twice inside the opening 10 minutes of the second half to level the game and then Smalling grabbed a 69th-minute winner as City’s planned title celebration was put on hold.

Key to the turnaround were two players who have, in recent weeks, begun to be seen as expensive problems rather than quality solutions for Mourinho.

Paul Pogba, the French midfielder, had been poor in the opening 45 minutes but it was his two goals that put United back in the game.

Pogba went into the game after City manager Pep Guardiola told reporters that he had been offered the midfielder by his agent Mino Raiola in January.

“If the accusation from his agent is that he wants to go to other clubs, his price has gone up,” quipped Mourinho after the game.

Pogba has been struggling to produce his undoubted talent at United with question marks over his best position and rumours that he and Mourinho have not always seen eye-to-eye.

But his quality was certainly evident in the second half and he said he was motivated by the need to save face for United fans.

“I didn’t want to lose against City, the loss from last season is still in my mind. If they won they are champions, for all the fans it would be like death. To lose against City and to see them celebrate, I couldn’t let that happen,” he said.

“At half time in the dressing room we said we have nothing to lose, 2-0 let’s make it.

“After a second half like this, we have to do that all the time. If we did, we would be up there with City, and maybe even in front,” he added.

Pogba’s first goal was a simple finish after a well-timed run was picked out by Ander Herrera chesting a ball from Alexis Sanchez into his path.

His second was a superbly angled header from a Sanchez cross and indeed it was the Chilean, as much as Pogba, who galvanised United in their comeback, providing the delivery into the area for Smalling’s winner as well.

Sanchez, who joined United from Arsenal in January, has yet to settle in, as was evidenced in his ineffective first-half display. But after the break, he was back to the jinking, clever and incisive player that he is known to be.

Mourinho spoke about how United have improved this season in all areas and how that curve needs to continue next season.

If Pogba and Sanchez can deliver on a regular basis performances like the one they produced in the second-half of Saturday’s memorable win, perhaps the talk of United being eclipsed for years to come by City may turn out to be premature. – REUTERS

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